Friends and colleagues of one of the first openly gay rabbis to be ordained in the UK have paid tribute to her, after she died on Saturday aged 77.
Together with a group of friends, Rabbi Sheila Shulman founded London’s gay and lesbian synagogue, Beit Klal Yisrael (BKY), in 1990. She quickly set about welcoming everyone, especially lesbian and gay Jews.
Among those she called to were “Jewish women who want to work out an independent and challenging relationship to Judaism and being Jewish” and “Jewish men and women who may not think of themselves as formally religious, but who do have Jewish issues, questions and concerns”.
The Brooklyn-born pioneer’s love affair with England began in 1967, when she travelled on a fellowship, and she would later decamp permanently, a world away from her Yiddish-speaking childhood.
An ardent activist for women’s rights, she recently said: “It seems like, in the past 20 years or so, there’s been somebody following me and other feminists around with wet brooms, wiping out all the footsteps behind us.”
This week she was hailed as “an inspirational teacher” by the principal of Leo Baeck College, Rabbi Deborah Kahn-Harris.
“She brought more people into the rabbinate in the past 20 years than any other person,” said Kahn-Harris of the Brooklyn-born pioneer. “Her sharp intellect will be deeply missed.”